ENJOY THE RIDE
Interview by Amber O’Dell
One glance at the pastel colours and delightful characters in Ben’s artwork and two things are made abundantly clear ~ he bloody loves what he is doing, and everything is good.
According to Ben Ross, a regular day of his life in the Northern Beaches of Sydney goes something like this – he wakes up, takes the dogs for a walk, surfs, has lunch, paints, surfs again, draws, sends emails, watches a movie and falls asleep. What a life.
As a creative, optimistic and easy-going guy, we were incredibly stoked to have the chance to pick Ben’s colourful mind, and knew we were in for quite a ride after he accurately described his artistic career as a full-time vacation where people pay for his brain.
“Sure it’s a lot of work to be able to afford to be a full-time artist. There are a lot of meetings, emails, handshakes and the other normal things that a business owner does, but to be paid to draw and paint what’s in your brain – it’s definitely worth it.
“I think the best thing about being an artist would have to be the respect. I was a builder for 10 years constructing people’s dreams and not once did they really respect you or treat you in a manner that was well respected. As an artist, the respect is unbelievable, but I suppose that comes with doing what you love and getting the best you can for your client.”
Ben’s love for what he does certainly shines through his artwork. To put it simply, he paints summer, and that doesn’t just mean he draws sunny days, palm trees, sandy beaches and surf (although, he captures those very well too).
Along with his simplistic 70’s Byron Bay style, every one of his pieces oozes calm, happiness and fun, and depicts a world full of charming characters that are not afraid to slack off and take their time enjoying the world around them.
His art definitely speaks to those who crave simpler and more easy-going times, which is perhaps the main reason why his colourful perspective on life has taken the world by storm over the last couple of years.
Despite having enjoyed drawing for as long as he can remember, Ben said his bright, feel-good art style only took hold recently after going through a not-so-summery time of his life.
“When I was a builder I hated life and tried to jump off a cliff. Ultimately I failed, but the boys thought that we needed to get away, so we went on a boys surf trip to USA and Mexico. I was running out of money quick, so I decided to hit up a few bars in San Diego to see if they wanted me to draw for them.
“I was put onto a woman in London that wanted a caricature in yoga poses all over her studio. I drew myself, and a few downward dogs later Benny Cools was born. She hated it and didn’t pay me, but that’s where my caricatures came from, so thank you to that woman. It’s been almost four years now and I haven’t looked back.
“I went to Mexico after that and started painting and drawing my caricatures everywhere. The biggest inspiration for my style of art was Mexico, if you’ve never been I highly recommend, it’s such a clean and art filled place, it feels like the country is still in the 70s and pastel colours fill the city streets.”
When it comes to Ben’s pleasing colour choices, you can pretty much trace every pastel shade back to the yellow sand, blue sea and pink sky of Mexico. After borrowing inspiration from the unique coasts he has visited and drawing from his memories of growing up surfing and watching movies like Point Break and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ben designed his iconic laid-back art style and the caricature that started it all – Benny Cools.
This cartoon alter-ego was the first summer-loving character in a long list quirky personalities that are now seen all over the world in almost every medium you can think of. Ben is certainly not one to turn down a new art project, and said almost every job excites him as he enjoys every aspect of what he does.
“Animations are always good as I don’t have to do much, it’s all the animator. I’ll draw a few scenes, send it off and a few months later the animation is in front of me. Word of advice for the youth looking to get into art – do animation. There is so much work, you get paid well and there is f#ck-all animators in Australia, so there’s a massive market. If you do, hit me up, I’ll employ you.
“Murals are always more fun as I’m working onsite. I can have a beer with the owners and just talk shop. I do enjoy murals a lot more as you can really engage with the public, you’ll see a lot more smiles and that’s the reason I’m in the game.”
Many of you have probably seen Ben’s colourful scenes plastered all over social media and starring on everything from shirts, shoes and beer cans to shopfronts, vans and giant wall murals. Big brands clearly love the positivity and colour behind his art, as he has a reputation for collaborating with internationally known names such as Platypus, Lululemon, Taco Bell, Triple J, Boss Coffee, Dickies, Rollie Nation and, as he will explain, some of the most iconic sports teams in the world.
When asked what it’s like to work side-by-side with all of these huge companies, Ben said they are incredibly amazing to collaborate with, and even teased that he has a few interesting stories about many of them that he can’t spill here.
“Big brands know my art and what I’ll produce for them, so they rarely ask for me to change or do anything. They just give me a budget and let me do my thing, which I love. The best way to work is when there are no restraints.
“I would have to say the best I’ve ever worked on would be for Carlton Football Club, as I’m a mad Carlton man. It was unbelievable to paint at their new facilities at Ikon park. Seeing all the boys train and shaking hands with the elite was a dream come true. I recently just painted at the MCG with Carlton and Great Southern Bank, which was another dream I never knew I wanted.
“I’m currently on the way to the States to paint Kansas City Royals. It’s going to be a massive dream come true to paint for the MLB. I recently finished an art series card collection for Major League Baseball and drew clubs from all over the state. To be asked to draw for the Yankees was unbelievable for me. Almost every day is an adventure with the art world. I love it.”
It’s no wonder why all these companies flock to intwine their brands with the summery, feel-good vibes of Ben’s art. Amid the stress and bustle of today, his simple and joyful perspective helps others to stop for a second and get lost in fun scenes and pastel colours, which is an impressive feat in itself. In our humble opinion, the world definitely needs more art like Ben’s.
Of course, we couldn’t help but ask him about our favourite form of escapism – surfing. As you can imagine, we were incredibly stoked when Ben said he has a collection of 15 surfboards and rarely strays away from riding his favourite twinny.
“Oh, I love to surf, I get out at least once a day, at the moment I’m riding a 6”6 Christenson Twin. It’s one of the most fun boards I’ve ever ridden and rides super-fast down the lines and turns so smooth. I always feel like I’m Mikey Feb (February) out there.
“I surf in Newport all the time. It has unbelievable waves and so many epic little groms doing some massive tricks. Australia is in good hands if this is the norm. I grew up surfing the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, down Gunnamatta way and occasionally popping into the ever so versatile Point Leo. Unbelievable people, but there’s only really one good wave a month. It would be the best surf in the world if it was always on.
“The sled I use at the moment is Christenson Twin Lane Splitter. I have a few Haydenshapes boards, with my favourite from him at the moment being a new series that isn’t getting much love – the Atelier. It’s a short board shaped like a mal, and it’s so fun and catches everything.”
It’s not hard to see where Ben gets all of the inspiration for his art. He seems to never stop chasing all of the fun, weird and wonderful experiences that come with living along the coast, even if it takes him to the other side of the world. Ben said, as long as he can keep surfing, drinking, running, swimming, traveling and getting paid to paint and draw, his life is good.
“I have some massive collaborations coming out this summer so keep an eye out, I’m very excited about these. I’m also writing a book at the moment, it’s really just about the struggles and stories behind being an artist. I have a solo show coming out early next year as well which will be a massive dedication to the soul that helped me get here.
“With my art style I try to put people at ease, I was going through a really rough time when I first started drawing these caricatures and they have helped me through a lot. I really just want to keep illustrating calmness to let people know that life may be sh#t, but enjoy the ride. Stop for days and smell the roses.”